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National Book Awards Names 2020 Nominees

Two acclaimed debut novels and a story collection whose author died last month are among the 10 fiction contenders for this year’s National Book Award.

The debut novels, which the National Book Foundation announced along with the rest of its fiction longlist on Friday, are “A Burning,” by Megha Majumdar, and “Shuggie Bain,” by Douglas Stuart, who had a particularly big week — his book was also named to the shortlist for the Booker Prize on Tuesday.

“If I Had Two Wings,” by Randall Kenan, who died at 57 in August, is one of two short story collections on the list, along with “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies,” by Deesha Philyaw. Rumaan Alam’s third novel, “Leave the World Behind,” about a disconcerting family vacation set against the backdrop of an eerie societal disaster, also made the longlist, as did Brit Bennett’s “The Vanishing Half,” about twin Black sisters who decide to take very different paths through life.

Isabel Wilkerson (“Caste”) and Jill Lepore (“If Then”) are two familiar names on the longlist for nonfiction. Claudio Saunt’s “Unworthy Republic,” about the dispossession of Native Americans, Frank B. Wilderson III’s “Afropessimism” and Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s “The Undocumented Americans” were among the nonfiction titles that also made the list. The New York Times Book Review called Ms. Villavicencio’s book, her first, a “captivating and evocative” mixture of memoir and reportage by one of the first undocumented students to be accepted to Harvard University.

All 10 of the writers longlisted for poetry are first-time nominees, and two of them are debut authors: Tommye Blount, whose “Fantasia for the Man in Blue” breaks up its title poem about police violence against Black people into a quartet threaded throughout the book, and Anthony Cody, whose “Borderland Apocrypha” uses elements of documentary to write about experiences at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Perumal Murugan’s “The Story of a Goat” is one of the nominees in the translated literature category. The novel, translated from the Tamil by N. Kalyan Raman, is Murugan’s first since he renounced writing in 2015 after being pilloried by right-wing Hindu groups. The Times critic Parul Sehgal wrote that the new novel “examines the oppressions of caste and colorism, government surveillance, the abuse of women — all cunningly folded into the biography of an unhappy little goat.” Not among the contenders is the Dutch novelist Marieke Lucas Rijneveld’s “The Discomfort of Evening,” translated by Michele Hutchison and named the winner of this year’s International Booker Prize in August.

The contenders for young people’s literature include Candice Iloh’s “Every Body Looking,” about a young woman coming of age at a historically Black college; Traci Chee’s “We Are Not Free,” about 14 teenagers affected by the incarceration of Japanese-Americans during World War II; and “When Stars Are Scattered,” in which the Somali refugee Omar Mohamed tells his story with the help of Victoria Jamieson.

The shortlists of finalists in each category are scheduled to be announced on Oct. 6. The winners, normally announced at an event in New York City, will be unveiled this unusual year during a virtual ceremony on Nov. 18.

Below is a complete list of the 2020 nominees in all five categories.

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